No troubles at Freeport VA clinic, says Rep. Cheri Bustos

FREEPORT — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said Thursday that the care provided at the city’s Veteran’s Administration outpatient clinic is superb, unlike the widespread examples of patient neglect and mismanagement that have plagued VA hospitals nationwide.

Bustos’ comments came after the East Moline Democrat met with staff and patients at the Freeport clinic, 1301 Kiwanis Drive. It was the final stop of her tour of VA facilities in the 17th Congressional District in recent weeks.

VA Secretary Eric Shinsecki resigned in May after a federal audit of 731 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide revealed widespread scheduling problems, treatment delays and alleged retaliation against employees who tried to expose the problems. The VA has admitted that 23 patients have died because of delayed care in recent years, though some reports put that total much higher.

Freeport’s VA clinic is the smallest of the six VA hospitals and clinics in the 17th District and serves about 2,000 patients per year.

“What we’re finding here — just like at the other clinics throughout our congressional district — is very different than what is being reported throughout the nation,” said Bustos. “We are obviously having a VA scandal that’s happening system-wide, but every single vet that we talk to here, they all were happy with their service and the care that they’ve been provided. We just aren’t finding veterans who are telling us that their care is anything other than tremendous.”

Nate Bechtolt echoed Bustos’ sentiment.

“I’ve had nothing but good experiences,” he said of his care at the city’s clinic. “I’ve had no problems.”

Bustos said the city’s VA clinic is able to accommodate new patients within the VA’s 14-day standard. She believes that there are opportunities to improve service at VA facilities throughout the region, including new scheduling software. There’s a greater need for mental health services and audiologists, too, she said.

Officials at the Freeport VA clinic want a larger facility to better accommodate patients and hope to make a decision this fall.

Bustos said she has not met Robert McDonald, the longtime corporate executive that President Barack Obama has nominated to lead the VA, but she hopes he’ll quickly correct what’s wrong with the troubled agency.

“Obviously we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to build back the confidence — to earn the confidence of veterans in light of the scandal,” Bustos said. “We’ve actually passed — out of the House and out of the Senate — a bill that allows the VA to use outside resources if there is a backlog need.”

Bustos was among several in Congress who called for the Department of Justice to investigate potential criminal wrongdoing within the VA.

“The No. 1 question has to be: are we serving the veterans and are they getting the care that they deserve?” Bustos said. “That’s going to be the utmost importance throughout this process.”